Just when Bill Richardson appeared to be in the clear on corruption charges in New Mexico, new allegations of pay-for-play during his administration may envelop the former Governor again. A grand jury indicted a sitting district judge on charges of corruption for buying his appointment from Richardson in 2006, and a whistleblowing judge believes the rot went all the way to the top:
Third Judicial District Judge Mike Murphy allegedly said he gave $4,000 to get appointed to the bench by then-Gov. Bill Richardson in 2006, and told several people that other judicial appointees had to give money as well.
That’s according witness statements detailed in an incident report about the bribery case against Murphy. Ninth Judicial District Attorney Matt Chandler, the special prosecutor in the case, released the report and the grand jury indictment of Murphy today in response to a records request from NMPolitics.net. It’s the first time the facts of the case have been made public.
Read the full report here. What’s so shocking about it isn’t that payoffs were occurring, but that so many people knew they were occurring and did nothing about it. Judge Lisa Schultz was warned on more than one occasion that she was risking her personal safety in pursuing the corruption, by more than one judge. She defiantly told the district attorney’s office about the corruption in 2009, which then referred the case to independent counsel due to the inherent conflict of interest in investigating judges that preside over their own cases. The DA at that time was Susanna Martinez, who wound up succeeding Richardson as governor last year.
Schultz could have taken the matter to the Judicial Standards Commission, but she didn’t trust them — for a very specific reason:
She had previously asked Norm Osborn, the Third Judicial District Court’s staff attorney, for an opinion. He wrote in a Sept. 24, 2007 memo that Murphy’s conduct was inappropriate and could be interpreted as “offering political influence in return for campaign contributions,” according to the report. Osborn urged Schultz to “consider referring this matter to the Judicial Standards Commission and to do so without delay.”
Schultz didn’t want to do that. She wrote in her journal that the majority of the commission’s members were appointed by Richardson, and the commission, which investigates ethical complaints against judges, had power over her.
Schultz wrote that she believed “the scheme also involved Governor Richardson,” and she did not feel comfortable “turning in Governor Richardson to his own board.”
Schultz then went on to secretly record a subsequent conversation with Murphy, in which he tacitly admitted to the corruption:
“Judge Schultz said to Murphy, ‘Do you remember when I asked you and Judge Martin about the fact that you guys had mentioned to judicial candidates that they, it would help their chances to give money to Edgar Lopez and hence the governor, blah, blah, blah, blah?’”
“Judge Murphy responded and said, ‘Yeah, of course, that’s over now, because we’re going to have a new governor.’”
Edgar Lopez is the alleged bagman in this operation, and the buffer for Richardson in the alleged scheme. If Murphy cuts a deal — and a former judge has a lot of reasons to avoid the general population in a state prison — it will be to turn on Lopez and other judges who paid off Lopez for their appointments. Assuming this is true, Lopez will be looking at a very long stretch in prison if he keeps his mouth shut about Richardson, who is after all the man who made the appointments after Lopez got the cash. Lopez couldn’t collect unless Richardson was in on the scheme, and without Richardson, the other judges wouldn’t have felt the need to threaten others to keep quiet.
Richardson isn’t out of the woods at all in New Mexico. This should get very, very interesting, and it may set the Democratic Party back decades in the state.